As my practice deepens, my agenda deepens with it. What I do and what is off the table is key. For rank and file cloistered monastics this is not a question. A higher-up or the tradition decides when they rise, eat, work, pray, meditate, and sleep. I’m retired and a lay person. Outside of retreats there’s no boss to set the agenda. I’m married so our calendars and agendas need to be coordinated. Some of my agenda is set by the needs of staying alive and healthy: 3 meals a day, shopping, daily exercise, rest, recreation, etc.
I can survive without checking the news everyday. We manage our own retirement investments, so stock markets, macro-economic news, and the Treasury rates need some attention. I’ve unsubscribed from most of the e-mail lists, Poem-a-Day, various activist and lobbying organizations, cooking sites. One additional person signing an on-line petition will not tilt the “long arch of history that bends toward justice” noticeably.
Who or what sets my agenda? I am finding my call writing poetry. This blog strengthens my essay writing. Letting non-essentials go gives me more time for writing and reading poetry. With more time, there is more energy and desire to write. This surprised me
Every task that comes my way I ask, “Is there joy here?” If “yes”, it goes on the TODO list. If “no”, I ask is necessary? Even doing taxes has a satisfaction in doing them, having them done, and the necessary bookkeeping. Still there is more on my TODO list than can be done in a day, or a week.
“Getting Things Done” (GTD) by David Allen can be helpful. Or a trap. Workaholism runs in my family. I easily fall into maximizing performance/production of what does not matter. David Allen observes that “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them” and advocates keeping tasks in a trusted system so you can focus (be mindful) on the thing thing in front of you. If I’m meditating alone and a clear task comes to me, I’ll pause and put it into my trusted system. Age and chemo side effects make my memory not a trusted system.
Reading GTD from the perspective of a contemplative in the world shows how it can support a contemplative practice/lifestyle. And how it can lead to suffering.